History of the Ouachita Mountains
From the Ouachita National Forest Web Site
A current overview of the cultural history of the region is provided by Sabo et al. (1990) in Human Adaptation in the Ozark and Ouachita
Mountains. Bell (1984) presents a summary for the Oklahoma portion of the Ouachitas. A general history of the area is also available in Sabo et al. (1990:121-170) and in Spears et al.
(1988). For the purposes of this study, the cultural chronology has, with minor changes, been extracted from these sources and presented in the following table.
The Paleo-Indian Period, 12,000-10,500 B.P. (before present), represents the earliest reliably documented occupation on the North American
continent. Pleistocene boreal forests dominated the landscape and supported a variety of mammals including the now extinct megafauna. Evidence of Paleo-Indians occurs in the form of
characteristic fluted lanceolate projectile points. Two distinct projectile point types are known to occur in Arkansas and Oklahoma: Clovis, and Folsom points. Elsewhere, these projectile
points have been found in association with extinct megafauna such as mastodon, mammoth, giant sloth, and an extinct form of bison, leading to the classification of Paleo-Indians as
nomadic bands of big game hunters. Recent research in both western and eastern North America, however, suggests that the subsistence base of Paleo-Indiancultures may have been
considerably broader than initially suggested (Early and Limp 1982). Paleo-Indian settlement patterns in the Ouachita Mountains, however, are difficult to determine. No in situ
Paleo-Indian components are recorded in Arkansas. In the eastern Ouachita Mountains, however, fluted points have been recovered. Two finds were made on high terraces or promontories
overlooking major stream valleys, one at the site of Blakely Mountain Dam on the Ouachita River and the other on a high terrace or alluvial fan at the junction of the Caddo River and one
of its tributary creeks near Caddo Gap. These discoveries confirm that Paleo-Indian cultures were present in the Ouachitas, at least for short periods of time (Early and Limp 1982).
The Dalton Period, 10,500-9,500 B.P., occurs during the late Pleistocene/early Holocene transition known as the Hypsithermal episode. This
gradual warming trend which began with the retreat of Wisconsinan ice around 14,500 B.P. led to drier climatic conditions conducive to the development of oak-hickory forests, and may have
contributed to the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna around 10,000 B.P. Climatic amelioration also caused changes in human populations. Dalton peoples relied more on deer and
intensively foraged for nuts, berries, and other plant foods for subsistence. The artifact assemblage for the period is defined by the Dalton projectile point, formally similar to earlier
Paleo-Indian points. The Dalton point was utilized both as a projectile and as a cutting tool. Other implements for processing plants and for woodworking are present in the Dalton
assemblage. Dalton components are evident on sites in the eastern Ouachitas, both on terraces overlooking major rivers and at higher elevations (Early and Limp 1982:35).
The Archaic Period, 9,500-2,000 B.P., is subdivided by Early, Middle, and Late Phases. Because of a lack of archeological information, Early
and Middle Phases, 9,500-5,000 B.P., are combined for the Ouachita Mountain Region. This period roughly corresponds with the Hypsithermal (6,000-3,000 B.P.). TheArchaic Period was a time
of population growth which may have led to increased sedentism and a more complex form of social organization. Archaic cultures placed less emphasis on deer for subsistence and relied
more on smaller mammals such as rabbit and squirrel. The diet was supplemented with birds, fish, and mussels, and as reflected by the presence of manos and metates in the archeological
record, a greater reliance was placed on plant resources. Regional manifestations of the Middle Archaic Period include the Tom's Brook and Crystal Mountain Phases (Schambach
1970:384-396). Tom's Brook Phase components contain Johnson stemmed projectile points while Crystal Mountain Phase components contain Big Sandy projectile points and notched pebbles.
In the eastern Ouachita Mountains, Tom's Brook and Crystal Mountain Phase sites contain midden deposits with dense accumulations of lithic debris, mostly novaculite. The settlement
pattern suggests greater reliance on riparian resources. Tom's Brook Phase components reveal the first sustained use of novaculite resources in the Ouachita Mountains (Early and Limp
1982). Aboriginal quarries and archeological sites located on terraces downstream from quarries contain large quantities of novaculite chipping debris and unfinished tools in association
with Archaic projectile points (Early and Limp 1982). Late Archaic manifestations in the Ouachita region, from 5,000-2,500 B.P., are identified as the Wister Phase. The characteristic
Wister Phase settlement pattern reflects a division between riparian base camps and short term special-use sites. The base camps contain substantial midden deposits, human and dog
burials, pits, postholes, hearths, and burned clay concentrations (Williams, Abbott, and Joseph 1992).
The Woodland Period, 2,500-1,100 B.P., is marked by changes in material culture, subsistence base, and sociopolitical or ideological systems.
The principal Woodland manifestation in the northern Ouachita Mountains is the Fourche Maline Phase which appears to be a cultural continuation of the Wister Phase. During the Woodland
Period, the hunter-gatherer adaptation continued to evolve with a greater emphasis on ground stone plant processing tools and with the addition of ceramics to the cultural repertoire.
Fourche Maline peoples cultivated several species of native annual plants and the first tropical cultigens may have been introduced at this time (Early and Limp 1982). New styles of stone
tools suggest technological diversification as well as the importance of lithic resource procurement. Diagnostic Fourche Maline artifacts include Gary contracting-stemmed projectile
points, single and double bitted chipped stone axes, ground and polished boatstones, pitted cobbles, and Williams Plain ceramics. These characteristic thick walled vessels are tempered
with clay, bone or grit and are undecorated. The construction of burial mounds and the presence of exotic materials interred with the cultural elite indicate a more complex social order.
The typical Fourche Maline settlement pattern contains major mound centers with midden accumulations along terraces with small sites on tributary streams (Early and Limp 1982). Sabo
(1990) notes that sites at higher elevations above stream valleys include short term hunting and collecting camps, quarries, and other special use sites. Late in the period, however, a
pattern of small, dispersed farmsteads prevailed.
The widespread appearance of political and religious hierarchies between 1,100-300 B.P. marks the Mississippian Period. New forms of social
integration emerged in cultures across most of the Southeast, continuing the social evolution sparked in the Late Woodland Period. Subsistence continued to be derived from a mixture of
wild plant and animal foods, but with substantial reliance on Mesoamerican cultigens--particularly corn and beans. Platform mounds were used for special purpose buildings, functioned as
repositories for burial of elite society members, served as the nucleus of society, and provided tangible evidence of the power of sociopolitical and religious leaders. The regional
Mississippian manifestation is known as the Arkansas Valley Caddoan tradition (1,100-450 B.P.) which is subdivided into three sequential phases: Harlan, Spiro, and Fort Coffee. The
characteristic Caddoan settlement pattern contains a large mound center surrounded by small, dispersed farming hamlets as well as temporary camps and special use areas along tributaries
and in interriverine upland areas. Two such mound centers occur near Ouachita National Forest. The Bluffton Mound is located on the Fourche-LeFave River in Yell County and Mound Site
3LO15 occurs in the upper Petit Jean River Valley in Logan County (Williams, Abbott, and Joseph 1992). Caddoan sites are characterized by diagnostic arrowpoints and other lithic
artifacts, and shell tempered ceramics, often richly embellished with Caddoan iconography. New vessel forms occur including bottles, plates, and carinated jars, and nonutilitarian human
and animal effigies were also manufactured. Mississippian cultures continued to flourish in Arkansas and the southeastern United States until the arrival of European explorers in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In Arkansas, the historic Quapaw Indians, 1673-1860 (A.D.), were reported living south of the Arkansas River in the Ouachita Mountain region.
The Cherokee Indians, 1794-1828, after removal from their lands east of the Mississippi River, settled along the middle Arkansas River and tributaries along the north edge of the Ouachita
Mountains. These historic Indian groups were sedentary farmers living in comfortable log houses with gardens, fields, and orchards with cultivated grains, vegetables, cotton, and tobacco,
and raised cattle, horses, hogs, goats and fowls (Williams, Abbott, and Joseph 1992). In 1825, Choctaw Indians were removed from their ancestral home and inhabited the Ouachita Mountains
in Oklahoma. All settlers, Native American and European, occupied the rich agricultural lands along streams. Eventually, settlement spread to lands along smaller streams and to upland
areas (Smith 1988).
In the early nineteenth century, a town developed at the hot springs in Arkansas. After the Civil War, the availability of free acreage under
the Homestead Act encouraged rural settlement on less fertile lands. The Ouachita Mountains, however, remained thinly populated by subsistence farmers. Eventually, isolation decreased
when the interstate railroad system reached the Ouachitas. With access to new markets, farmers began to grow cash crops for export and more settlers moved into the area. The railroads
spurred a regionwide boom in lumbering. Beginning in the 1880s, lumbermen and speculators assembled large tracts of timberland and developed their own railroad lines to supply raw
material for the sawmills. Large land tracts were obtained from the Public Domain through the use of land bounty warrants, timber and stone claims, and homestead claims. Some homesteads
were fraudulently acquired by speculators intent on getting the land for its valuable timber (Smith 1988).
Even after 1900, a large portion of the Ouachitas' interior remained in the Public Domain. On December 18, 1907, President Theodore
Roosevelt set aside much of this public land as the Arkansas National Forest, which in 1926 was renamed the Ouachita. The Forest Service in its first fifteen years in Arkansas attempted
to curb timber-stealing and wildfires, to set up ranger outposts and a telephone communication system. By the 1920's, the Forest Service had built trails and some primitive roads on
the National Forest, and was up grading its stands of trees by enforcing rules for selective cutting by lumbermen who bought government timber. During the depression of the 1930s, the
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) battled woods fires, erected buildings, and constructed all-weather roads on the National Forest. Campgrounds, picnic areas, and swimming lakes were
constructed at Shady Lake, Bard Springs, Iron Springs, and Albert Pike recreation areas. Bankrupt farmers and defunct lumber companies sold large acreages of their unwanted land. Cutover
timberland was purchased at low prices by the Dierks family, by the International Paper Company, and by the Forest Service. During this decade, the Ouachita National Forest more than
doubled in size and expanded its boundaries into Oklahoma. Since World War II, the pattern of land ownership has become more stable. Farmers continue to hold the best agricultural land,
private timber companies own the largest part of the better timberland, and the U.S. Forest Service has most of the more rugged backcountry areas (Smith 1988).
For more information about the Ouachitas and the Ouachita National Forest,
Go to the Ouachita National Forest Web Site.